Alexandra Petri: Men of the world: You are not the weather

Instead of saying, “Do not go around lighting people on fire,” we are telling women, “Don’t be flammable.”

Smoke is not weather. Let me tell you why I have said this. Weather is something you can do very little to prevent; you can only prepare for it and warn people about it and buy protective gear. Smoke happens when someone decides to light a fire.

I am sick of having to treat smoke as though it is weather.

I am sick of having to bear witness about sexual harassment.

I am sick of being warned, or not warned, about interacting with certain people, as casually (Molly Ringwald’s words, not mine) as talking about the weather.

“Bring an umbrella. There is a man spitting on you from a great height and it is easier to treat it as though it is raining.”

“If you have lunch with him, know that he likes to set up a giant pit filled with stakes that you will have to step around.”

“He is a thundercloud. He is quicksand. He is a deep bog.”

For the last time, men are not the weather. You are not the weather.

Yes, I mean you. Maybe you are one of the good ones, but I mean you. If I say “not everyone,” you will think, “Oh, not me,” and you will be wrong. So I mean you.

You thought you were being nice, maybe. That any attention from you was flattering, maybe. That I would see it as a compliment, maybe. I have forgiven you, maybe. Or I am embarrassed for you, or I never knew what your name was. But make no mistake: Nothing about this was inevitable. This was not weather. You are not the weather, and your buddy is not the weather.

This has to stop. Instead of saying, “You cannot smoke in here,” we are telling every woman, “there is going to be smoke in the restaurant, so encase yourself entirely in protective sheeting.” Instead of saying, “Do not go around lighting people on fire,” we are telling women, “Don’t be flammable.” But you can’t be human and not be flammable. This is not like walking down a dark alley and getting mugged, because for that to be true you have to have the option of not walking down the dark alley.

If someone were standing on a corner throwing mud at passersby, we would not say to the passersby, “Well, my aunt didn’t get any mud thrown at her, and she never wore nail polish, so try that.” We would say, “Get that idiot somewhere where he can’t throw mud at people.” Do you want to hear a story? One of the things I was wearing when somebody tried to do something I did not want them to do was a Jabba the Hutt suit. Don’t talk to people about what they were wearing. A, Hutts are asexual, and b, no. It is not what you are wearing.

For the last time, this is not “the way the world works.” We were not groped by the invisible hand of the economy. That was a person who made a choice, and they were capable of making a different one.

I have the same stories as everyone else, but not as awful. Stories that could have been much worse. They end with a shrug and “I was lucky.” We all have a story. And if we do not have a story, we have a theory. We become convinced that we are carrying some sort of charm, that it is the four-leaf clover we did wear or the short dress we didn’t. But of course luck is not like that.

Solidarity and bearing witness for one another is one thing. Believing one another is one thing. But having to march around with this pain and roll it out? Annually? It feels annual. (Happy Annual Cri De Coeur Week, When Every Woman You Have Ever Met Tells You A Horrible Story, And You Nod Gravely, Then Go About Your Life.)

I am sick of having to suffer so a man can grow. What is this, every Hollywood movie ever made? I am tired of having to confess to someone else’s crimes. I am tired of showing up at the banquet dripping blood like Banquo’s ghost. This should be your ghost, not mine. I am not the one who should be ashamed that you have done these things. I am not here to make you see the error of your ways. I am here to get through my life every day without inhaling thick lungfuls of smoke.

Because that’s what this is. This is like getting people who have gotten cancer from secondhand smoke to come testify together as a way of solving the problem. But you are the one who needs to stop.

So let’s try something new: You don’t stop smoking because it kills other people, until those people are your family. You stop smoking because it makes your breath foul and your hair brittle and it will kill you, eventually.

If you don’t know that this is killing you, I should not have to tell you. It is in your interest to be a good person, not because of some abstract conception of sin but because you are poisoning yourself. You like the smoke, but you are choking on it and you can’t even see. You are making us tell these stories instead of all the other, better ones we could tell.

This world does not have an independent existence of the people who live in it. Remember that. If you stopped believing things had to be this way, even for a second, it would stop. It is only this way because somebody laughs at the joke. It is only this way because the man on TV got away with it. It is only this way because we keep telling ourselves this is weather.

Everything in our lives does not have to smell like smoke. We could get rid of it. But we have to want to. You have to want to.

You are not the weather.